“I hate Illinois Nazis.” A humorous quote from John Belushi in The Blues Brothers addressing a serious hate for a group of sadists and their atrocities still haunt the world since World War II. Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS is anything but a humorous tale and actually inspired by real life female Nazi camp personnel. If you are a fan of World War II cinema, note this is the farthest thing from The Great Escape and definitely not an episode of your daddy’s Hogan’s Heroes (though this film was probably discovered at the murder scene in Bob Crane’s apartment next to his perverse home videos). The first I heard of this 70’s sleaze fest was from my uncle who was lucky enough to view it as part of a double feature at the defunct Lincoln Drive-In outside of Philadelphia. His words of “amazement” at the bizarre images that pierced his eyes were all I needed to hear. I needed to see this deranged gem.
Ilsa, portrayed by blonde buxom Dyanne Thorne of Star Trek, is the Kommandant at a concentration camp (made on set of the canceled Hogan’s Heroes) where she leads morbid medical research performed on female prisoners designed to demonstrate that women are more capable of enduring pain than men. Ilsa is a vile woman whose viciousness at times comes second only to her hunger of enlisting her male POW’s as love slaves. This insatiable hunger would make Gene Simmons blush, castration and death comes to the men who fall short of satisfying her carnal desires. Wolfe, an American prisoner and the movie’s hero, is the only stalag stud who has control of his “love gun,” and manages to use her nympho needs to his favor. Wolfe eventually leads the rest of the prisoners in a bloody revolt against the guards while gaining Ilsa’s trust by becoming her boy toy.
This notorious sleaze classic packs so much depravity in such a short time. Sex and graphic violence with horrific torture paints almost every scene. After forty years, Ilsa still has the ability to offend and disgust for its entire running time. A target by Mary Whitechapel and the notorious British Board of Classification, Ilsa was twice rejected for a UK cinema certificate. Surprisingly enough, Ilsa never made the “Video Nasties” list of 72 banned titles in Great Britain, but the tame in comparison Evil Dead did…go figure.
Ilsa, directed by Don Edmonds of Tomcat Angels (1991) was originally inspired by Love Camp 7 (1969) and penned by John C.W Saxton (then Jonah Royston) of Happy Birthday to Me (1981). Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS was followed by three lackluster sequels, Ilsa: Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (1976), Ilsa: The Wicked Warden (1977) helmed by Spanish trash auteur Jesus Franco and Ilsa: The Tigress of Siberia (1977). Ilsa is also looked to as the inspiration and (in some cinema circles), as the Citizen Kane of Naziploitation horror subgenre that flooded drive-ins and grindhouse theaters in the late 70’s and early 80’s. SS Experiment Camp (1976), The Gestapo’s Last Orgy (1977), Captive Women 4 (1977) are just a few titles that have found a niche with cinema goers and collectors of this unique subgenre.
Ilsa has apparently struck a chord years later in that it won Best Alternative Release at the 1985 AVN awards. Horror aficionado, Rob Zombie even directed a faux trailer, Werewolf Women of the SS, for Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s love letter to 70’s & 80’s film Grindhouse (2007) and made reference to Ilsa again in his horror animated, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto (2009). Even pop culture staple, The Simpsons: The Wandering Juvie (2004) episode made a nod to Ilsa where Gina Vendetti threatens Bart with castration.
Forty years after release, Ilsa still has the ability to shock, disgust and scar filmgoers with its mark as a powerful unforgettable cinematic experience. A mark that defines the essence of an exploitation film and one left like a dark bruise on society’s psyche that would only excite our naughty girl Ilsa.